Alex & His Sisters has been running for over 2 years now (with a gap in the middle for the pandemic)
Organised by Alex McCann of Social Media Marketing Company Altrincham HQ, the networking events now attract 100 women in business for each event.
At each event Alex interviews an inspiration woman in business about their career and journey … so in our updated blog we turn the questions on Alex and ask him about his career and journey.
Alex has had a career in journalism, events and social media over 23 years and the questions will be coming from our previous guest speakers and regulars.
Over the past 13.5 years Alex has built up an impressive training client list including the BBC, Manchester City, NHS, Selfridges, Costa Coffee, United Utilities, University Of Manchester, Manchester Arndale and many more
In a rare moment the questions are turned on Alex McCann and he is in the spotlight.
What follows is the name of the name and photo of the person asking the question and then my answers to the questions
UNA COTTRELL, 45 NOT OUT
When you launched your social media business in 2009 how big was the gamble investing time and money in developing a social media business when nobody knew whether social media would take off or not, at that time? Did you know at the time how big social media would become?
2009 was a huge gamble to launch a social media business. I actually had friends laugh at me and say that teaching people how to use social media wasn’t a thing.
At the time I was running my events business in Manchester putting on about 6 events a month and I just sensed from being in the city centre there was a shift in the marketing landscape. The suburbs like Altrincham hadn’t really caught on to marketing via Facebook and Twitter (that’s all that there was then) and I knew how powerful social media was from using myspace as a tool from 2004.
Time was the big investment rather than money initially. I knew how to market myself and the business so the costs were minimal apart from networking breakfasts and business cards.
The biggest problem in the early days was convincing people of the power of social media. Those networking meetings that I used to attend maybe only 10% of the room would be using social media then – so even though I know the early days would be very much about educating people, I knew that I had a room where another 90% need my service and the 10% already using social media are dabbling at best.
So, I knew it was going to be powerful back in 2009 … but I didn’t imagine 14 years later the average person would use 7 different social networks, spend 2.5 hours a day on social media and 93% of purchasing decisions would be influenced by social media.
SARA KAY, SERIOUS LAUGHTER
Why did you stay put in Altrincham and not move elsewhere in your life?
I’ve actually lived outside of Altrincham once for just 1 year of my life.
In my early 20’s I lived in Preston for one year whilst friends were studying at University.
It was nice to live somewhere else with another 5 people in the house, but what I realised in that year was how much I missed Manchester.
Music is a huge part of my life and the music scene in Manchester in unparalleled so that’s the key reason I’ve never left Manchester. People in the north are just much nicer so I couldn’t ever see myself living in London.
And then when it comes to where to live in Greater Manchester, I don’t think anywhere is better than Altrincham. You’d expect me to say that with Altrincham HQ as my business name, but I truly believe it. Altrincham has everything here I could ever want and the only reason I go to Manchester City Centre is for the live music.
That said – I hate the weather in England and it’s inevitable that in the future I’ll be spending more time in sunnier countries. The biggest win of the pandemic is that now my training is mainly via zoom I can work anywhere in the world.
What do you do to stay consistently motivated?
There’s only one time I’ve not been motivated ever.
I lost my best friend to cancer in October 2021 and for 3 months I had zero motivation. Nothing work wise mattered and although I worked in this time I was going through the motions and doing the essentials and nothing else.
I think I have quite an addictive personality so when I do something I go 100% in on it. I don’t think I have a middle ground – I either have zero interest in something or am all in!
Around 2012 I listened to talks on goal setting and every quarter I set goals for the next 3 months. It really helps me keep focused on Business, Personal Life and Fitness. It’s easy to drift if you don’t set goals. I want to be better in whatever I do.
Working in social media as well I think being motivated is easier than other industries. Every day something changes so it’s hard to be bored or stay still.
MARIA MOYLES, LEARN NORTHWEST
There are many aspects to your business, which of them do you enjoy the most and which do you find the least enjoyable / rewarding?
I love blogging and public speaking. I set up Altrincham HQ so anything that allows me to help people is always enjoyable.
One of my favourite bands always comeback with the line “it’s our latest attempt at mass communication” and I like what blogging and public speaking allows me to achieve. I get to impact people in a short period of time.
The least enjoyable are probably the universal chores of running a business – email, admin, accountants. They’re all essential, but don’t really tap into my creativity so it’s always the last thing on my to do list.
Lydia Sirovica, Oakwood Properties
You have shared with your network the loss of a really close friend last year. What has helped / is helping you navigate through the grief whilst continuing to run a successful marketing business?
Mark was by best friend for all of my adult life – we 1st met when I was 18 years old – and when he passed away at 46 I’d known him for more years than I’d not known him for.
It goes without saying it was and still is the hardest time of my life.
I learnt overnight that that phrase “I think of you every day” was 100% true. I’d never experienced loss before.
What has been harder is dealing with being Alex as a human being rather than Alex as a business owner.
I was lucky that I had enough reserves for me to take a lot of time off from the business if needed.
Initially I thought I’d be taking 6 months to a year off work to deal with it, but I realised that keep busy was a coping mechanism so throwing myself into work was something I used to deal with it. Is it the right thing? The wrong thing? I don’t know. The 9-5 of dealing with training and retainer clients was the easier bit because my mind was distracted. Our clients understood and we’d been working with them for so long that I could still deliver great work on autopilot.
There were certain elements of the business however I just couldn’t handle. Creativity in terms of our own marketing stopped 100% for 3 months. For 3-6 months it was a real challenge. I was staring into a screen and just couldn’t think of anything creative. I couldn’t sell. I couldn’t market. And when that’s what you do as a business you start to think will I ever get it back.
Going to business launch parties is still hard to do – as Mark was always the one person who accompanied me to them
Thinking of new events to run just isn’t a consideration right now – as Mark was my designer and I can’t face using another designer right now for the posters and promotion.
What has been harder though is dealing with everything outside of work. As I said work keeps you busy and distracted. I realised 3 weeks after than if I was left to my own devices at weekends I fell into a pit of despair and depression. 18 months later I really have to plan every minute of my weekends out to keep busy and Bank Holidays are still pretty tough because even with my circle of friends we don’t spend every moment of 3 or 4 days together.
One thing I’ve tried to stick to is being positive as much as possible. Mark was always positive and when I feel down I always try and hold on to that and snap out of it. I owe it to him to keep living.
HELEN NURSE, CAPTURE1
What do you look for in a potential speaker for a business event?
I’m an ex-journalist, so it’s all about the story and the angle for me.
Does the speaker have a story that excites me? Because if their story excites me, then I know it will be interesting for our audience.
We turn down about 5-10 speakers for everyone we accept, so the bar is set really high for Alex & His Sisters or any of our event.
I’ve never booked a speaker because they’ve come up to me or emailed and said I want to speak at your events.
We often find those speakers on a more organic way. From conversations in our training, conversations at networking, conversations on social media. It’s all down to relationships and hearing something in those conversations that I feel this could be a great fit.
SUE FRANCE, CREATIVE CONNECTING IN CHESHIRE
You used to put on gigs and events which were all about entertaining people and making sure they had fun.
People who attend Alex and his sisters want this too, but they also want to connect with others to grow their businesses.
How do you approach the networking events using your experience from your past to enhance them?
It’s a delicate balancing act, but I think we’ve found the sweet spot
We get the best speakers so if someone comes along to a networking event for the very 1st time and doesn’t chat to anyone, they’ve still learnt a lot and walked away with some tips to grow their business.
We’ve got a host who has the marketing skills to bring together 100 people in a room and markets both small local businesses and the biggest brands in the world – so in terms of marketing there’s someone who can you with that (although I never sell this enough at events)
And we always make the point about the event is the start of a getting to know someone. I encourage attendees to have zoom calls, coffees and meet up after the event.
Like yourself, it’s that education about networking not being just one event or trying to sell – but using the services of and collaborating with those you meet.
EMMA CLARKE, VOICEOVER ARTIST
How do you make sure you don’t get stuck in a comfort zone?
Over the last few years I don’t think any business has had a comfort zone or an easy life.
The fear, the change, the worry has kept us all on our toes.
There’s only one time I ever coasted and it was when I paid my mortgage off a few years ago. For about 8 months I became complacent and lacked ambition because the single biggest debt I had in my life was gone. It took me a while to realise that was why I had no drive. I thought about what I wanted to achieve over the next few years and formulated a plan and it’s that plan that keeps me motivated and ambitious.
I’ve always had a problem with the line “When you buy from a small business, you’re not helping a CEO buy his holiday home.” – I know so many small business owners who have or want a holiday home and it’s aiming for things like this that have kept them ambitious and kept their business growing.
How do you align and make space for your personal and business priorities?
I manage to do this quite easily tbh.
People say you can’t create balance in life, but I feel I do a fairly good job of this.
When I set my goals each year they’re in 3 distinct categories of Business, Personal and Fitness and they’re all equally important to myself.
Working in social media it can be hard to switch off so I choose personal hobbies that help me truly switch off social media and my phone – running, the cinema and watching foreign language dramas.
Suzie Henriques, The CV Bee
What lesson would you give your younger self if you could go back in time?
I’ve been asked this a few times over the years and I always say the same thing.
I’d tell myself to start earlier than I did.
There are so many opportunities for people to follow their passion at an early age these days.
Coming from a working class family nobody in the immediate family circle had ever ran their own business and it was never really discussed at school.
I followed my passion for music and entered the music industry when I was 22 (which is still early) – but I wish I’d have done it at 18 and known it was an option for someone like me.
How do you navigate the local / UK wide / international dynamics of your business?
I do always debate whether Altrincham HQ was the right name for my business.
I named the business Altrincham HQ because I wanted to help businesses in my hometown. In 2009 businesses were marketing themselves is such an outdated way compared to Manchester City Centre businesses and I wanted to help my home town.
Working with so many businesses in Altrincham built a momentum of it’s own where the circle got bigger and it went from Altrincham to Manchester to the North West to the UK to the world.
I’ve now worked with businesses in the US, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Dubai, Portugal and all around the world.
There will always be a local focus and on our Facebook Page that’s the most “local” – but I try and touch on broader issues of marketing, social media and business on the other channels. I have a gift and if I talk about what I do it tends to attract businesses internationally.
What 3 songs would be the soundtrack to your life?
Oh great question
I love music so this question is always hard as do I pick my favourite songs / bands; songs that mean something; songs that were simply a soundtrack to a certain point of my life.
I’ve always been attracted to bands that mean something so if I went with that I’d go for
The Smiths – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
Manic Street Preachers – Stay Beautiful
Orlando – Nature’s Hated
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